Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ordinary Angels- Part Two

Walking through the door at my parent's house, my sisters greeted me with hugs. 

It's funny how you automatically assume the same roles you had growing up - albeit perhaps, with a tad more consideration.  

Big Sis, still the caregiver (I used to accidentally call  her "mom"), filled me in on Dad's current condition and promised she'd be back to stay when the need arose.  Since she had gone back to school at age 40 to become a nurse, that news was extra reassuring.  (One of our brothers has spent the last 30 years in the medical profession and keeps close tabs on Dad's progress, filling us all in via email {thanks, bro!}, but he lives an hour away.)  Wiz, who married young and still lives nearby, always makes me feel like I never left home.  Close in age, we fought like cats & dogs, shared secrets, clothes, a bed... and still feel close even though we rarely see each other and live lives worlds apart.  All the "Critters" in her life now call her Grandma.  The Little Girls - odd that I still think of them that way since they are both in their forties - have Critters nearer in age to my own, but live too far away for the cousins to know each other well.  I was never the greatest big sister to them, but now I'm always glad when they're around. 

I, as the Crybaby of the family, did what I do best...


Old Dogs

My father is dying.
There, I've said it,
though that makes it no more, no less true.
 Cancer wracks his body,
quieting his booming basso voice,
making him struggle for breath
 and taking away even the pleasure of breaking bread.
He eats what little he does in the living room,
tethered to an oxygen tank,
so that his hacking (and hawking)
won't disturb the rest of us,
 not understanding that his absence at the table
bothers us more.

After everyone finally heads off to bed,
his old Lucky dog seizes.........and grows still.
Dad mourns silently from his
makeshift hospital room in the corner.
Mom, getting up to check on her charges,
calls up the stairs,
and we hurry back down, my sister and I,
to help her wrap Lucky in a clean towel.
And though she insists we leave him right there until morning,
she does not cry, at least, not in our presence.
But I do.

My father and Lucky. 
The two are inexorably linked in the mind of my firstborn,
whose moving essay about her own "lucky" gift
and her grandfather's recurring cancer
highlight one small dog's role.
For fourteen years this furry companion -
whose end was expected as he too went off his food
and became housebound - 
has kept Dad company whether he wanted him to or not.
When I call home the next morning,
I cannot tell her over the phone that Lucky is gone...
just as I cannot tell him
that everything will be all right...

...but I hope that all good dogs go to heaven,
and that Lucky will be waiting there,
having sniffed it all out first.


Husband had encouraged me before leaving to not force things, to just go with the flow - good advice since there was a whole parade of Angels through the old farmhouse while I was there.  Dad knows practically everyone in a tri-state radius and has always loved to "visit" with folks.  And while that may a good thing in a clergyman, it's a hard habit to break.  Though I didn't meet his hospice nurse, I sure do appreciate her admonition to him to "shut up and listen more!"  He hasn't taken her advice yet, but he tells everyone about it. 

Though he really enjoyed it, all that company tired him out.  We didn't get a chance to have the meaningful discussions I'd hoped for, or even to play cribbage, but we sat and watched storm updates together, chatting like always... and it was (almost) enough.

I would be remiss not to mention my temporary roomie, nephew Beni-Boy, who was visiting-within-a-visit with his uncle (my hour-away brother) when I first arrived.  When he came back, for some odd reason Mom left us in the same room (though thankfully separate beds) rather than move one of us in with his mother.  Not only did Beni-Boy not complain, but he left the light on to accommodate my pre-bed reading routine, and turned out to be a super conversationalist.  Made me wish we'd seen much more of him while he was growing up - and glad that he had reconnected with my Critters over the summer.


As I was getting ready to leave - something I dreaded even more than coming - my mother slipped some money into my hand.  "For Christmas" she said, but when I came out to check for my car keys, I found the same amount stuffed into my purse.

"Mom, you don't have to do this!"

 "I know, but traveling is expensive, and I don't want to have to worry about you." 

I guess being an Angel just comes naturally to mothers.


...more tears...


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